The Travails of the Status Seeker

Posted on February 6, 2014 by Robert Ringer Comments (23)

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I recently ran into a casual acquaintance, Peter, in the lobby of a hotel where I was staying.  I hadn’t seen Peter in many years and almost didn’t recognize him.

After shaking hands, I asked him what he’d been up to all these years, and his response reminded me of something the great Tom Wolfe (The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Right Stuff, et al) once said:  “I think every living moment of a human being’s life, unless the person is starving or in immediate danger of death in some other way, is controlled by a concern for status.”

Peter jumped right in and began a fifteen-minute filibuster about his life — his current exploits as a well-known “investment advisor,” his move to New York City a few years ago, he and his wife’s theater outings once or twice a month, their regular frequenting of the Big Apple’s finest restaurants, their visits to their Florida condo two or three times during the winter, how well all of his grown children are doing … zzz … zzz … zzz.  Falling asleep while standing is dangerous business, so I did everything I could to keep from dozing off.

Not surprisingly (I remembered Peter’s “I-me-my” personality from years ago, for which he is almost as well-known as for his economic analyses), during his “state of my status” address, he did not ask a single question about me or my family.  While forcing an outward smile, I thought to myself, “I can’t believe how hard this little twerp is trying to impress me.”

He was so caught up in talking about himself that it was as though I didn’t exist.  It was all I could do to resist tweaking his nose, but the thought of his germs on my fingers kept that uncouth impulse in check.

Sensing that if I didn’t forcibly end Peter’s monologue I might soon turn into a pillar of salt, I waited until he took a deep breath, then quickly interrupted and told him that while I would love to hear a more detailed version of what’s been going on in his life (yes, my tongue-in-cheek remark went right over his head), I had to be moving along because I was late for an appointment.

What status-obsessed Peter didn’t know was that not only was I not impressed with his self-centered bloviating, it totally turned me off.  He would have been mortified, I’m sure, had he known that the more he talked, the more I suspected he probably wasn’t doing very well financially.

Being the kind and gentle soul that I am, part of me wanted to share one of my most important success rules with him:  The power of the understatement is enormous!  I refrained, however, because it makes me uncomfortable to see grown men cry.

The desire to impress others is one of the most painful forms of mental imprisonment.  It not only requires a great deal of time and energy, it eats away at a person’s self-esteem as well.  There is nothing more degrading than knowing, whether or not it is consciously acknowledged, that you are saying something, doing something, or buying something with the primary purpose of impressing others.

Unfortunately, at one time or another, everyone says and does things that are motivated by the desire to elevate his status in the eyes of his peers.  Even the most forthright among us are “on stage” more than we would like to admit, whether or not we are consciously aware of it.  As with everything in life, however, when the desire to impress others gets too extreme, it can be debilitating — even fatal — to the professional purveyor of puffery.

The desire for status starts early in life when young children begin playing with one another.  Then, in elementary school, peer pressure all but consumes them.  It’s a force that eats away at the personalities of children year after year, all too often resulting in lost souls.  Worse, as a result of yielding to peer pressure, millions of kids have become fatalities through such negative activities as drug abuse, drunk driving, and gang violence.

I mention gang violence because the desire for status recognition cuts across economic barriers.  Inner-city gang members strive for conformity and acceptance — all too often expressed through violent behavior — as much or more than do suburban, mid-level executives vying for membership in a prestigious country club.  Indeed, eliminate the phenomenon of peer pressure and our prisons would probably be half empty.

Those who are lucky enough to survive elementary, middle, and high school usually begin the long road to freedom from peer pressure in their mid to late twenties.  Some are fortunate enough to travel this road rather quickly, though they are decidedly in the minority.  For most, it is a very long journey, and many people make little or no progress throughout their lives.

Ultimately, peer pressure evolves into self-pressure, i.e., the pressure to constantly calculate one’s moves based on how they will make him look in the eyes of others.  In suburbia, it spawns affectation — the desire to make others believe that one possesses wealth or qualities he does not really possess.  Having lived in the suburbs of many cities throughout the world, I can assure you that this desire knows no geographic or ethnic boundaries.

Generally speaking, people who suffer from affectation to an extreme have lost their identities.  They are, in fact, the most imprisoned people on earth.  While doing their best to maintain an air of confidence, it is usually quite obvious that they are extremely insecure people

Affectation almost always metastasizes into an unhealthy attachment to material belongings, which becomes yet another form of self-imprisonment.  Buddha warned of this danger when he said that “All unhappiness is caused by attachment.”

I like material possessions as much as anyone else, but I am no longer obsessed by them as I was when I was much younger.  Materiality pales in comparison to having a worthwhile purpose in life.

Think of peer pressure, conformity, and the desire for status as your mortal enemies — because they are.  The more a person focuses on impressing people, the less likely he is to be accepted or respected.  A better idea is to use your energy to focus on developing the qualities that bring genuine acceptance and respect, such as strengthening your moral and ethical infrastructure and creating value for others.

Because we’re human, neither you nor I will ever completely conquer status consciousness, but that should not stop us from trying.  The alternative is to have people laughing at you behind your back — as I know many people do with Peter — and that’s something that anyone with dignity should never want to subject himself to.

Robert Ringer

+Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

23 Responses to “The Travails of the Status Seeker”

  1. imgettingdizzy says:

    With the way a lot of people act, you'd think the treatment for affectation was retail therapy (blegh)

  2. Jason says:

    If were in the business of selling products and services it is helpful to use these human behaviours that society has created to sell more products and services to people whose trigger points are impressing others, which is all of us in some shape or form as you said Robert. Do you have any training course on selling to the affluent by the way?

  3. To be simply human is such a cool thing.Such greatness and worth!!It is sad that we often miss noting,harnessing and actualizing this greatness!

  4. John R says:

    When you stat doing things for sake of chasing status and fame, you're chasing a dragon you can never catch. The harder you run, the further away from your convictions you get. I guess it comes down to what's more valuable to you: Your convictions or your status in the eyes of others. It's possible to have both if you consistently place your convictions first. If you place status first, you're going to eventually lose the other and then you're down the rabbit hole.

  5. John E. Gabor says:

    If I look back to the day it dawned on me that I am not on a stage, it was probably about the same time I stopped being a hippie. And just as I know I still have some hippie left in me, I'm sure, at times, I climb back on that stage. Both were good articles that told us a lot about ourselves..

  6. BLH557 says:

    An old Chinese curse: May you attain everything you wish for.

  7. Jean says:

    "The power of the understatement is enormous!" Boy is that ever true. When I was in college, one of my friends was a Japanese exchange student. Asking about his background, he answered, "My father owns a small electronics business." In my mind, I saw something like an ABC Warehouse or Best Buy franchise; I discovered long after graduation that his father was a part owner of Mitsubishi. The one that got away……….

  8. Jurgy says:

    90% of the time I agree with you, but this time I must remark that it is easy for you to say Robert – you are a rich guy and you already have all your "stuff"….

    • John E. Gabor says:

      I like to see people make a lot of money. I like to see people get the stuff they want. Even if I didn't feel that way, no one's $$$ or stuff subtracts one dime or one item from me. Or my happiness. Or my sense of self worth. Or anything else that I can think of. That said, I've discovered in my old age that getting rid of stuff and just keeping the stuff you need makes life simpler, easier, and happier.

    • Todd says:

      At what point in this article did RR say not to get 'stuff?' You missed the point.

      • John E. Gabor says:

        I didn't say he did. I just said I don't envy people's successes. I like to see people succeed. I just didn't add that humility is important, too. When I got older, I chose to downsize – to give all the stuff away except the stuff I really needed. It wasn't an attack on "stuff". It's just what I did.

  9. Donald Ward says:

    Decades ago, the late, great author/philosopher Ayn Rand categorized the 'status seekers' as 'social metaphysicians' (i.e., people whose sense of self-value results from what other people think of them).

  10. laleydelexito says:

    Very interesting post Robert, thank you!

    Yes, I try to talk a little, it's very boring to speak all the time

    God bless you

  11. Tom Justin says:

    Great article, it reminded me of the time Steve Forbes asked my advice on…Just kidding.

    I think you're right on, of course there is a strategy in the business of personal promotion that any entrepreneur or upwardly mobile individual should be mindful of. In a one-on-one meeting like you describe, it still goes back to great Dale Carnegie's works and as you pointed out, show genuine interest in the other person.

    When it comes to marketing promotion my rule has always been to do it in such a way that if the person seeing it doesn't know who you are, they'll think it's their fault. That's great promotion.

    • Taejonwill says:

      I’m buying things I don’t need….
      To impress people I don’t like……
      With money I don’t have….

      What could wrong with that?

  12. Nancy Mayfield says:

    It sounds like Peter could benefit from exposure to the concept of biologically based ego-defensiveness and the alternative of ego-neutrality, including the importance of the ego-neutral moment. http://www.egoneutral.com/transcending.html http://www.egoneutral.com/ulist.html

  13. Robby Bonter says:

    I do not understand this column at all, when I consider the gist of Mr. Ringer's epic work, "Winning Through Intimidation?" That is because in WTI, Mr. Ringer made the quantum leap from consistently "losing," i.e. being cheated out of commissions by real estate "principals," when he vastly upgraded his "image power" and began bringing HIS attorney to formal closings, etc.

    Mr. Ringer's social contact, whom he describes above as "tooting his own horn," so to speak, is doing what? He is assertively promoting his image power, and perhaps even trying to drum up some business with Mr. Ringer, apart from trying to "impress him." Plus, with business-oriented people, small talk about "family," is just so much distraction and gratuitous stroking of one's ego, at best, since no one on the planet really cares about whether someone else's kids are taking ballet lessons or have been accepted into medical school, a reality Mr. Ringer alludes to in his epic book.

    As Michael Douglas/Gordon Gekko powerfully states and realistically observes in "Wall Street," – "It's all about bucks, Kid, everything else is just conversation." Apparently Mr. Ringer was in need of some frivolous conversation the day he bumped into and old friend who was coming from a self-promotional, business-orientation frame of reference.

    I wish I knew more people like that. Most around here, in the remote population area where I live, we primarily have gossipy, small town busy bodies and robotic zombies for family, sitcoms, and soap opera conversational fluff. So that,as an escape from these social cretins, I will listen to anyone who wants to self-promote and perhaps drum up a business deal, as the offshoot of that.

    Who among us, save the "deadheads" and "idealists" of the world, is not trying to evolve via being more, wanting more, and having more? People who are not trying to evolve where their life situation and standard of living are concerned are toxic drags on a society and scare the hell out of me, given that there are too many of them around, these days. In fact, you want to talk business, leave my kids and the "little woman" the hell out of the mix – let's get down to it!

    • Robert Ringer RJR says:

      Either I need to become a better writer or you need to become a better reader. It's as though you read a different article than the one I wrote.

      P.S. Peter's monologue was focused primarily on his personal life, which I had no interest in whatsoever.

      But thanks your feedback anyway.

      • Robby Bonter says:

        When Peter said he was an "investment advisor" he was "front door" soliciting. If you had followed up on that with the response "What are you selling?" he would have shifted right into business. I will agree that since he is in sales, his "warm up" was flawed, he should have focused upon you, his prospect, not upon himself, but the phony sales "greasing up" of prospects, to me, by pretending to be interested in their personal lives is just as nauseating.

        We really do not have to suffer boorish people, as you did iin this case by being "polite," and then complain about having to suffer them, later on. I would have been directly honest with him and said: "Peter this is going no where, don't call me I'll call you," and cut right out of there.

        • Des says:

          I think you should re-read this article more carefully. Your comments leave the impression that you missed the point entirely.

          • Robby Bonter says:

            I hope so, Des, given that I look for the "hidden meaning" behind all forms of human expression. What I have learned most in life, is to NEVER take anything anyone says at face value. More often than not, you INVERT what someone says = you get the truth.

            But that is just my take on the matter, no one has to "agree" with me. Whatever works for you is valid, too. Put me down as the lead cynic and skeptic around here and wherever I go. Meanwhile I am not looking to buy into the ostensible "point" anyone is making about anything. "Posturing" is the real American national pastime. I think the man Mr. Ringer was dealing with was probably the most honest person, if not the only honest person, he dealt with that entire day.

          • Robby Bonter says:

            I hope so, Des, given that I look for the "hidden meaning" behind all forms of human expression. What I have learned most in life, is to NEVER take anything anyone says at face value. More often than not, you INVERT what someone says = you get the truth.

  14. MapleGuitar says:

    "The desire to impress others…" This reminds me of something I read 35 years ago. I think it was called the "what others think" hurdle, described in Looking Out for #1. I'd check with the book, but I believe I loaned it to my son to help him identify and clear the hurdles of life.

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